National Traffic Signal Report Card 2012 from the NTOC – Part One

On May 16, 2012, the National Transportation Operations Coalition (NTOC) released their 2012 National Traffic Signal Report Card. This is a national traffic signal assessment where US agencies grade themselves on 5 categories related to the management and operation of traffic signals. The overall grade was 69 or a D+ based on 241 respondents, representing approximately 39 percent of all traffic signals in the United States.


This week’s blog we’ll review the previous results of NTOC Report Cards as well as the results from this year and two of the five criteria that attribute to the overall grade.

The next blog article will cover the remaining three criteria, which will be in 2 weeks. As mentioned in the newsletter, the blog will be updated every other Wednesday for the summer months.


Previous Results of NTOC National Traffic Signal Report Cards

In April 2005, the NTOC released the first National Traffic Signal Report Card where over 300 agencies completed a self assessment and scored a D- overall.  In October 2007, the NTOC released the next National Traffic Signal Report Card where more than 400 agencies responded and showed an improvement with a grade of D.

Although there was an overall improvement with investments in signal management, infrastructure, systems, and agency processes, these grades still demonstrate that traffic signals are not efficiently operating and creating additional delays to drivers.

The Results of the 2012 NTOC National Traffic Signal Report Card

The results show that the National Traffic Signal Report Card score is a 69, which is the equivalent to a D+ letter grade. This has improved 4 points from the previous report card in 2007 which was 65 or D. All 241 local and state agencies were weighted equally.

The signal assessment was divided into five topic areas identified as necessary for good signal operations:

  • Management
  • Traffic Signal Operations
  • Signal Timing Practices
  • Traffic Monitoring and Data Collection
  • Maintenance

Since 2005, both Report Cards have shown improvement, but very slowly. A score of D+ is still viewed as low by the NTOC. Economic factors such as reduced funding have had huge impacts on the results of the Report Card.


Management: Grade D

The Management section of the Report Card scored a grade of D or 64. According to the results, signal operations programs that are based on objectives, written out and shared with stakeholders is not as common a practice as it should be. Clearly defined goals and performance measures are also rarely established.

The Report Card found the following for Traffic Signal Operations Management:

  • One-third of respondents stated that they have limited to no plan defined for traffic signal operations
  • 43% stated that they do not actively monitor or manage traffic on a regularly scheduled basis
  • 40% stated they do not have operations plans that consider or review traffic management or traffic monitoring

A high score in management suggests that the agency has a written plan for their traffic signal operations which is shared with other leadership, employees and the public. Well developed plans describe policies, objectives, and performance measures for the signal operations program while taking into consideration the agency’s resources. They also include the needs of regional partners, other transportation modes, facilities, and system users including pedestrians.


Traffic Signal Operations: Grade C

The average score for Traffic Signal Operations is a C or 72, which has been fairly consistent but leaves room for improvement. Results from the Report Card indicate that many agencies are implementing strategies and activities to achieve their operational objectives. However, signals are not retimed regularly and many agencies do not have signal timings for emergencies or special events in place.

The Report Card found the following for Traffic Signal Operations:

  • 70% of agencies stated they have some documented process for reviewing signal timings as well as having strong procedures for updating signal timing parameters
  • 68% stated they have strong documentation and inventory of approved signal phasing and time settings for intersections
  • 50% of smaller agencies (<450 signals) and  85-90% of larger agencies (>450 signals) reported that a traffic signal is updated in the field in less than two weeks

Receiving a high score for Traffic Signal Operations would require maintaining a system for monitoring all intersections especially high traffic arterials and intersections with high crash rates. Signals need to be reviewed regularly and based on the operational objectives as well as retimed at least every three years. Signal timing plans for emergencies and special events should also be created and implemented when appropriate.


As mentioned earlier, the next blog will review the remaining three criteria: Signal Timing Practices, Traffic Monitoring and Data Collection, and Maintenance.


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